A Fine Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto Cycle Concludes

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Romain Descharmes concludes his generally impressive cycle of Saint-Saëns piano concertos with this coupling of the formerly popular Fourth, and the increasingly popular Fifth. His performance of the Fourth, the composer’s most original work in the medium, is impressive. It’s a difficult work to pace; there’s a lot of slow music, and the thematic material is expressively pretty neutral. If the work is “about” anything, it’s a study in thematic metamorphosis and chromatic counterpoint versus diatonic harmony.

Descharmes and conductor Marc Soustrot understand the music well. The opening variations are nicely contrasted, the ensuing Andante attractive in its flow. The long finale effectively integrates the ongoing return of the main themes, with Descharmes weaving into and out of the instrumental textures smartly and sensitively. It’s an interpretation that consistently holds your attention, and rewards your patience.

The “Egyptian” Concerto isn’t quite as good. The outer movements are fine, especially the rollicking finale, but the long central movement could be more effectively shaped, its “orientalisms” indulged just that more characterfully. Still, as in the Fourth, the performance reveals a lot of meaningful detail, especially in the finale, and Descharmes isn’t afraid to take a step back and let other instrumental colors take center stage once in a while. Ultimately this complete set of the five piano concertos stands among the best out there, even if everyone will have favorite individual performances. This is an achievement of which everyone can be proud.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: No. 5: Magda Tagliaferro (Philips); Complete set: Anna Malikova (Audite)

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